When the 2017 fire demolished a piece of Virden’s historic business section it was an immense loss for a woman who was renovating one of the buildings in order to open a business. But since that fire Christy Gabrielle has overcome obstacles to pursue her dream - to open a women’s clothing store with a unique brand all her own. Garb & Guise has been open now for a matter of weeks.
“To see it come to fruition, it never seemed like it was going to happen,” says Gabrielle who is excited to be open.
She had started renovations on the former Future Features before it burned. As bad as that would seem, the worst of it was, since she was not yet open and a functioning business, her insurance was inadequate and the building turned out to be a total loss to Gabrielle.
But she didn’t give up, and within six months she had become the new owner of a building across the street.
She bought Virden School & Office Supplies and, with her 16-year-old daughter Leilani, worked over the three years making the space their own. These two women renovated 447-Seventh Ave. to become a clean, white, chandeliered clothing boutique with three change rooms and a rear staff room.
“My daughter and I, we completed that reno on our own,” she says with a note of triumph, adding that the plumbing and electrical work was done by professionals.
It’s elegant inside. On July 16, garments line the outer walls. Gabrielle’s not short on ambition; she has plans to fill her space.
“We did a soft opening because I didn’t have a ton of stock to begin with. We’re just trying to build up from there.”
No matter, there’s already racks of beautiful garments to browse and three change rooms for try-ons.
What will you find in the new shop?“The wide leg, high rise, high waisted… we have so many beautiful trousers. I’d say that’s popular. We have a lot of different styles.”
Gabrielle has to like the product herself. “I feel like I dress according to how I’m feeling. Sometimes I feel really straight.” For that there’s a line of street or office clothing, that has a formal touch.
“Maybe I’m feeling like a Boho goddess,” she laughs, “so we have those styles. A very wide range of styles.”
This was her childhood dream. “I’ve always been interested in fashion since I was very little.” She recalls afternoons wanting to beg off sick from school to watch shows on the fashion network.
Several trips to the Los Angeles fashion district fed her desire and she took concrete steps toward becoming a fashion retailer. “I just started researching while I was there, manufacturers the whole scene.”
It was in her blood, as her mother, Gwen Dillon, initially owned Sheri Lyn Fashions. “I worked with fashion in my mom’s shop when she had it.”
“My big sis, growing up, was with Suzi Shier as an area manager… I always looked up to my sister.”
“We ended up doing a private label. We work with different manufacturers and we created Garb & Guise.” Looking to the future, she said, “For future expansion, I wanted to go that route. We work with different manufacturers choosing garments.”
With an apartment above, the previous store space was gutted and renovated according to building codes necessary for the living space.
Gabrielle said she didn’t push through to open in 2020 when covid health restrictions first arose. Now, she’s thrilled to get her business started.
“I was in shock I think for the first two weeks… we’d been trying to open for so long!”Community response and encouraging words have “made it worth the struggle,” says the new proprietor.